The Alcohologenic Parent

by Mark Sichel, LCSW and Alicia L. Cervini

Alcohologenic Parents are parents that inadvertently raise their children in an environment that fosters the development of an alcoholic-to-be. Adults trying to overcome dysfunction and addiciton in their lives tend to have had one of two polar opposite experiences while growing up:

  1. Parents who were neglectful, self-involved and abusive toward their children.

  2. Parents who were inappropriately and intrusively over-involved and nurturing toward their children.

The first scenario is one that we are more commonly familiar with and associate more readily with the development of dysfunctional adults. Neglectful, self-involved and abusive parents give their children overtly negative attention. Children of parents such as these are usually aware of resentment and anger that they harbor toward their parents. They KNOW that their upbringing was dysfunctional.

When people are aware of their anger at their parents, and eventually come to understand that their parents have their own psychological problems, they have a relatively easy time understanding how they themselves grew up to have psychological problems. Understanding the source of your psychological shortcomings better equips you to tackle them head on and eventually overcome them.

There are dysfunctional adults, however, who are mystified by the fact that they are struggling with emotional problems, because they believe that their parents were wonderful, warm, healthy and loving people. This type of dysfunctional adult tends to have grown up with the second type of parent. These people often cannot understand the source of their problems until I explain that they had parents "who love too much."

In an interesting inversion, people who grow up to become parents who "love too much," tend to have been raised by abusive and neglectful parents. People who complain about having had unloving, abusive, and troubled parents reverse their own experience naively believing that it is better to love too much. In fact, loving too much only propagates the cycle of dysfunction; it is merely creating a dysfunction of another sort.

The children of parents who "love too much" are treated like "King Baby:" where their every whim is catered to, their every demand is met and their every fear is alleviated. Sound good? It might at first, but a child raised in this fashion is learning to become a co-dependent. They are never taught to struggle, to persist, or to accept defeat gracefully. They are never taught to be alone with themselves. They are never taught to overcome fear, struggles, or adversity. They are never taught effective coping mechanisms for stress or disappointment. They are never taught to be grateful for what they have. All of these skills are necessary for a child to grow into a healthy, emotionally strong, independent adult.

"King Babies" tend to grow up to become King Midases in reverse: everything they touch turns to lead. Without having been taught coping mechanisms, a child is headed straight for an adult life plagued with addiction. Those who have no healthy outlet for stress and disappointment tend to "self-medicate" with a colorful array of addictive substances. Without having been taught independence, a child is headed straight for a string of unsuccessful co-dependent relationships. Without having been taught gratitude, a child is headed for depression.

Perhaps you cannot understand why you have difficulty with maintaining relationships, combating addiction, or achieving at work. Maybe you've been unable to understand why you can't seem to succeed at anything when you were brought up in such a "healthy" household. It might be time to consider that your parents might have loved too much. If you are a parent yourself, you CAN break the cycle. As Aristotle says, we should strive for the mean between the two extremes in all things...and that includes parenting. Find out more about the children of alcohologenic parents in King Baby is Born!


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